The recycling advantage.
What to do with hazardous waste a toxic substance in an essentially unusable form - is a hot issue. Gone are the days when such waste materials were carelessly dumped down the drain or onto the ground.
Increasingly, waste substances are finding their way to licensed waste storage facilities, where they are stored in drums or tanks. Another option is storage at the site where manufacturing or some other process generated the material.
Disposal liability has become a business concern. Recent rulings have stipulated that the party generating the waste material is responsible for the waste in the event of a spill, even if it's no longer at the original site - for example, at a disposal facility - or in the hands of a licensed hauler for disposal.
An alternative to hazardous waste disposal is recycling, which not only conserves resources but can save disposal costs. Also, on-site recycling reduces the risk of a spill and protects against financial liability that can result from a spill.
One industry particularly well suited for hazardous waste recycling is transportation. Millions of vehicles, aircraft and marine vessels translate into millions of gallons of used antifreeze, oil and other lubricants from periodic vehicle servicing.
Because some enterprising minds have engineered technology to recycle waste, businesses now can choose to recycle waste products such as used oil and antifreeze.
NuEra Technologies Inc. is an Anchorage-born distributor of equipment that primarily recycles waste oil and other lubricants. The firm markets filtration equipment, a system for recycling and blending used motor oil, and a variety of furnaces that bum used oil from commercial and industrial sources.
Steve Ransom, co-owner of NuEra, says the firm's business comes mostly from user groups that generate more than 100 gallons of waste product per month. NuEra's Alaska customers include government equipment facilities, such as state, city, borough and village maintenance shops; and businesses, such as trucking, heavy equipment, air transportation, oilfield service and oil companies.
According to Ransom, the business that he founded in 1984 has seen sales increases of 20 percent or more annually. He says he became involved in the recycling equipment business because it "looked like a unique, promising, high-need-type product with a good value return to the customer."
NuEra's most popular product is an oil-recycling furnace, the Black Gold Waste Oil Furnace manufactured by the Robert Sun Co. of Nashville, Tenn. The furnace stores, filters and burns the waste, which can be used crankcase or lubricating oils, automatic transmission fluid or diesel fuel. The end product is a fuel worth more than $1 per gallon. The heat produced during recycling can be tapped to heat buildings or to fuel water heaters.
Wayne Robertson, an environmental attorney and president of the Robert Sun Co., developed the Black Gold furnace after he saw waste oil dumped in a creek. He wanted to make used oil valuable so that it would be recycled instead of dumped and wasted.
Robertson came up with an efficient, low-maintenance unit that is environmentally friendly - and approved by the federal EPA, Underwriters' Laboratories, the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation and the National Fire Protection Association. In fact, the Black Gold unit was the first waste-oil-burning appliance to pass UL tests.
Black Gold's patented design accommodates anticipated regulations that would require such equipment to produce smokeless burning. The furnace also is odorless and clean-burning. Tests by the Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities show hydrocarbon emissions lower than five parts per million - fewer than produced by a well-tuned car.
Other tests have shown that organic wastes are destroyed at an efficiency rate of more than 99 percent. Benzene, a component of used oil as well as of gasoline and now on the EPA's hazardous waste list, undergoes complete combustion in the furnace and is transformed into water and carbon dioxide.
According to Ransom, the Black Gold system can pay for itself within a year from savings in heating bills. Waste-oil-burning furnaces not only save heating costs, they also eliminate the hazardous-waste disposal dilemma. The EPA supports on-site recycling of waste oil for energy recovery, exempting such substances from testing. Hauling and disposal costs and the potential liability inherent in those activities are avoided.
NuEra Technologies has expanded to the Lower 48 and relocated its headquarters to Kent, Wash. Says Ransom, "We're continually looking into new products that would benefit the user industry."
Ecco Inc. of Anchorage offers recycling operations to customers either on- or off-site. The business provides contract services for recycling glycol products, which include antifreeze (a mixture of ethylene glycol, water and special additives) and propylene glycol, a solution used in building and marine heating systems and in refrigeration systems.
Ecco utilizes the trademarked BG Cool'r Clean'r Coolant Purification System developed by BG Products of Wichita, Kans. According to Bill Ives, glycol purification specialist and sales representative for Ecco, the patent-pending system just won the Kansas Society of Engineers New Products Award and is a strong contender for top honors nationally.
Ives says that Ecco runs the only bulk-quantity Cool'r Clean'r plant in the country. Although there are about 60 Cool'r Clean'r distributors across the nation they focus on smaller-volume customers - such as repair garages - with units that handle about 100 gallons per day.
In contrast, Ecco's $500,000 recycling plant in Eagle River can process 50,000 gallons of used antifreeze per week. The company also can recycle large quantities at customer sites; for example, at buildings using glycol to prevent freezing of heating systems.
The two-year-old Alaskan-owned business isn't likely to stay confined to Alaska. Ecco holds a nationwide contract with BG to open bulk-quantity operations in the Lower 48.
Recycling antifreeze is basically a two-step process: removing impurities from the used antifreeze, then adding back chemicals, including rust and corrosion inhibitors, to produce "fresh" antifreeze. Used antifreeze has been recycled for more than two decades, but the reclaimed product has not always been consistent. Ives explains that filtration, the most common recycling process, cannot remove all the impurities.
The BG Cool'r Clean'r Coolant Purification System employed by Ecco uses a deionization process with resin beds to actually purify the old glycol products. Used antifreeze becomes 100 percent virgin ethylene glycol and deionized water before the chemical additives that "charge" the antifreeze are mixed in. Unlike antifreeze recycled by filtration, the antifreeze produced by the Cool'r Clean'r process consistently meets the specifications for new antifreeze. Ives notes that antifreeze can be recycled indefinitely by the purification process.
In Alaska, unlike in some other states, new antifreeze is not classified as a hazardous material, Ives explains. But he adds that antifreeze can become a hazardous substance once it becomes contaminated by toxic materials, such as lead that leaches into the solution from solder joints in automobile radiators.
Says Ives, "There's a lot of interest out there in us." To dispose of spent antifreeze from Alaska is costly, requiring shipment by a licensed hazardous-waste disposal company to a licensed disposal site in the Lower 48. "It can be as high as $10 per gallon - and you only paid $5.99 a gallon for it new," he points out. Recycling combines the cost of purchase and disposal and alleviates disposal headaches, Ives notes.
Transforming spent antifreeze into new and recycling used oil for heat are only two of many ways in which businesses are cleaning up their acts to reflect the growing awareness of a society confronted with unprecedented environmental concerns. Ives says, "The solution to pollution is no longer dilution. The solution to pollution is conservation."
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|Title Annotation:||recycling hazardous wastes|
|Publication:||Alaska Business Monthly|
|Date:||Aug 1, 1991|
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